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Electronic Voice Phenomena: Voices of the Dead, or Just So Much Static?

Amherst, NY (PRWEB) January 6, 2005

Electronic voice phenomena (EVP), the alleged attempts of the dead to contact the living through recorded media, have long been popular with the paranormal crowd. EVP were featured in the 1999 film The Sixth Sense, and serve as a plot hook in the movie White Noise, which premieres in theaters this Friday. But experts at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) say there’s little evidence to support claims of EVP.

 

“Serious parapsychologists today show virtually no interest in EVP, and modern reports in the parapsychological literature find no evidence of anything paranormal in such recordings,” says James Alcock, CSICOP Fellow and professor of psychology at York University in Toronto. “That does not deter the devoted; it is claimed that there are more than 50,000 sites on the Web devoted to EVP.”

 

Proponents claim that electronic voice phenomenon (also known as “Raudive voices,” after Latvian psychologist and EVP researcher Konstantin Raudive) are a type of interference in recorded media, created by the spirits of the dead in order to communicate with the living. EVP are usually produced by making recordings of an empty room, though sometimes participants will pose questions to any spirits that may be present. The recording is played back and analyzed for speech samples – speech samples that weren’t heard during the recording process. Many of the results are indistinct at best; the use of headphones is recommended, and multiple attempts may be required to make out words.

 

Since the rise of Spiritualism in the nineteenth century, there have been many scientific researchers (including noted inventor Thomas Edison) who dabbled in “spirit communications” while also engaging in scientific study. One such dabbler was Friedrich Jürgenson (1903-1987): philosopher, archaeologist, linguist, singer, court painter to Pope Pius XII, documentary filmmaker, recording artist-and a pioneer of EVP recording.

 

After recording birdsongs with a tape recorder, Jürgenson heard human voices on the tapes, even though there had been no one in the vicinity. He began to study recordings specifically made with no one around. He published two books on the subject, Voices from Space (1964) and Radio-link with the Dead (1967). His work brought him into contact with the Latvian psychologist Dr. Konstantin Raudive (1906-1974). Raudive would spend the last ten years of his life studying EVP, making over 100,000 audiotapes and writing about his findings in the 1971 book Breakthrough.

 

There are several non-supernatural phenomena, known to “play tricks” on people’s perceptions, which may be responsible for EVPs, Alcock says.

 

The mechanical phenomena include cross-modulation, where electronic devices accidentally pick up transmissions on other frequencies. Mental phenomena include pareidolia and apophenia, perceptual mechanisms that cause people to see images where none exist (such as Rorschach inkblots) and to think they hear distinct sounds in white noise patterns (like “hearing” the doorbell or the telephone while one is in the shower).

 

An over-active imagination may also play a role in “finding” EVP. In fact, Raudive comments in Breakthrough that reading Voices from Space left him with “a very definite impression of the author (Jürgenson) as a highly sensitive and susceptible man. Many of his ideas seemed to me to have been formed by a vivid imagination; the kind that could conjure up pictures in an empty room or voices out of the stillness.”

 

Alcock explains that EVP can be simulated in a laboratory setting. If the test subject is given an expectation of what they will “hear,” and if the cadence of those words matches the cadence of the white noise, “then the brain will turn those sounds into those – now clearly discernible – words.”

 

“Given that we can routinely demonstrate this effect, it is only prudent to suggest that what people hear with EVP is also the product of their own brains, and their expectations, rather than the voices of the dearly departed,” Alcock comments.

 

However, Alcock recognizes that many people who report success with EVPs are “reporting an experience that was highly meaningful and perhaps highly emotional – not something that is easily challenged by logic.” As a matter of fact, Raudive and Jürgenson both had intensely personal experiences with EVPs: Jürgenson thought he heard his dead mother calling him by his pet nickname; Raudive thought one of the voices talked about the recent death of a friend.

 

Hollywood – and audiences – love a good ghost story, but skeptics want to remind the public that films like White Noise and Ghostbusters are still just fiction.

 

CSICOP is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization, founded in 1976 by Paul Kurtz, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and other prominent academics, scientists and writers. CSICOP encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view.